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Water concerns raised at community forum

"We don't value water and we waste it," says a top University of B.C. professor. That was Hans Schrier's main message as the keynote speaker at a water forum held in Sechelt on Oct. 22.

"We don't value water and we waste it," says a top University of B.C. professor.

That was Hans Schrier's main message as the keynote speaker at a water forum held in Sechelt on Oct. 22.Schrier is an expert in the field of agroecology (agriculture as it relates to ecology). In the course of his specialty, Schrier has also become an expert in water management.

While the Sunshine Coast, unlike the Fraser Valley with its agriculture-based economy, does not have wide-scale pollution problems with our water source, we have other concerns.

Schrier cautioned the audience to be careful in the primary source of drinking water for the Sunshine Coast, the Chapman Creek watershed.

"Whatever we do in the watershed is going to affect the water," the scientist said.

He talked about the need to preserve trees in the area to trap "green water." Green water, said Schrier, is the rainfall that goes into vegetation rather than blue water where the rainfall goes to streams or ground water. Green is more desirable because it retains the water for longer.

The other factor at work in the watershed is the steep terrain. Should the area be logged, the result could be a washout with debris, soil and water-borne diseases contaminating the Coast's drinking water.

Schrier also talked about the role of climate change on the world's water supply.

Citing events such as the 1999 windstorm that felled 7,500 trees at Versailles, the 2002 Prague floods and the record-setting heat of the summer of 2003 that melted 10 per cent of the ice in Switzerland, Schrier said the shrinking water supply is a worldwide problem.

Traditional methods of managing water need overhauling, the expert said. "We need to stop draining wetlands, paving everything in sight and, above all, we need to find ways to retain waterfall," he said.

One of the easiest ways to capture water is the old-fashioned rain barrel under the eavestrough drain. And while Schrier was quick to acknowledge the mosquitoes drawn to still water, in his view it wasn't too high a price to pay to have water for his garden.

Another easy way to save water, Schrier said, is to invest is a dual-control flush toilet and fix household leaks. "We can save 30 to 40 per cent of the water used in the home [by changing to a low-flush toilet]. It's totally insane to me there is no law requiring that in new houses," he said.

And Schrier challenged the golfers on the Coast to find ways to recycle grey (non-sewage) home water.

"Why does everything have to be green? Those of you who golf, go and show some leadership," the UBC professor implored.

Several times during the day-long forum the issue of water meters came up. Schrier was in favour of this move.In addition to Schrier, the forum had two panels. One covered national and provincial perspectives and the other addressed specific local issues.

One of the concerns regarding the national management of water concerns its definition. If water is a commodity like wood or gold, it is subject to agreements such as NAFTA. Olga Schwarzkopf, the expert who spoke on the subject, said there's a need to take a firm stand with the United States on water. And she said it's time to update the federal water policy that's been in effect since 1987.

Former SCRD employee Bob Patrick spoke about the ambiguity that exists at the provincial level with regards to water management. There's a lack of structure and multiple agencies encompassing 10 ministries and 12 provincial acts with a stake in water management.

Ele Molnar of the Vancouver Health Authority spoke on the Drinking Water Protection Act.

She said Chapman Creek needs to be restored and protected. She also urged the installation of water meters. "A price incentive is the best incentive to change attitudes," she said.

The last panel of the day addressed conservation, land development (speaker Art Phillips called himself 'the perceived bad guy' of the water management equation), the salmon enhancement program and the Area A water supply.

Results of round-table discussions and concerns of the 100-member audience are available on the website, the local chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women, sponsors of the event.